The faked Telemadrid report on a long-dismantled smuggling operation

23rd January 2008, Comments 0 comments

Reporters used inside help to 'uncover' an immigrant entry point at Madrid's airport.

23 January 2008

MADRID - It was an undercover report that raised eyebrows across the nation. But what the producers failed to tell the public was that they had used some underhanded tricks to film it.

The report in question, broadcast on 14 January by Telemadrid, a network controlled by the conservative Madrid regional government, portrayed Barajas Airport as a gateway through which an "incalculable" number of immigrants had entered the country illegally by using a maintenance corridor to bypass security controls. The documentary triggered widespread criticism of the Socialist central government's immigration policies, particularly by the Popular Party, which governs Madrid.

However, the report, it turns out, was only a half truth at best. The maintenance corridor - and in particular a single security door - filmed in the report had indeed been used by people traffickers to get illegal immigrants into the country. But the Colombian group who used it by paying cleaners to open the door for them was dismantled in July, its members and the cleaners arrested. Since then, Spanish airports authority AENA says security at Terminal 4 has been tightened.

Telemadrid made no mention of those arrests, however, and instead insinuated that illegal immigrants were still using the corridor to bypass passport control.

"Telemadrid will now show you an exclusive report showing that Terminal 4 is a colander through which illegal immigrants enter Spain," anchorman Julio Somoano said.

The documentary begins with an off-screen voice explaining: "Just a single door separates immigrants from Spain. From the plane to the street, without passing through any immigration control, they only have to open the door. Telemadrid has tried it... The number of immigrants who could have entered in this way is incalculable."

The claim was made more realistic by the reporter, Laura Gómez, walking through the corridor and pushing open the security door with ease while filming with a hidden camera in her handbag. "We're now in Spain," she proclaims. What Telemadrid did not say is how she had bypassed the security system that prevents unauthorised people from opening the door. The ruse was filmed by an airport security camera.

The footage shows Gómez accompanied by Rodrigo Gavilán, a spokesman of the Spanish Police Confederation (CEP) who has long been critical of the Socialist government, and by a uniformed police officer, who is also a member of Gavilán's union.

The uniformed officer, who has since been suspended from duty, uses his card to open the door and Gavilán then uses a piece of paper to disable the magnetic locking mechanism in order to allow the reporter to open the door with ease.

Telemadrid argues that the set-up was not a hoax but rather a reconstruction of how people traffickers had gotten immigrants through the corridor. Gavilán and Gómez admit that they knew the mafia group had been dismantled in July but claim that they saw no reason to mention it because they believe immigrants are still using the same route to enter Spain illegally. Gómez argues that her report was merely intended to highlight "a situation that continues to exist, not to simulate that I got in illegally."

However, AENA and the police commissioner in charge of security at Barajas, Carlos Salamanca, have taken issue with the claims made in the report. "Fifty-two million people pass through here every year and we turn back 18,000 on average. The mafia group [who used the corridor] has been dismantled. This is not a colander for immigrants," Salamanca assures.

Telemadrid appeared to admit as much the day after it aired the documentary, telling viewers that the door "was" a way into Spain for illegal immigrants, but no longer "is" an entry route.

[Copyright EL PAÍS / JORGE A. RODRÍGUEZ 2008]

Subject: Spanish news

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